Via Satellite: Will the economic crisis make your business more attractive to customers?
Musk: With tough times comes austerity, and the U.S. government is going to try to save money. It will no longer be OK to just spend four times as much on a launch, which is the case for the government with companies like United Launch Alliance. They are four times more expensive than us to launch. They may claim that we are only half of their price, but they get a fixed infrastructure payment from the U.S. Air Force which covers all of their fixed costs. They only charge customers their variable cost, but their variable cost is still twice as much as our fixed and variable cost combined.
Via Satellite: How is the Falcon 9 developing and will it go through the same trial and error as the Falcon 1?
Musk: The Falcon 9 is designed to carry people, and we’re developing it to manned rating standards. That means higher structural safety margins, exhaustive testing and higher redundancies. The systems are all triple redundant on Falcon 9. We are currently in the final stage of development, so the main engines are done. We have completed a couple dozen firings of the first stage Merlin engines, and we’re getting ready to do pulverization firings. The tooling is all done for the rockets. We’re in the final phase of building it, and we’re hoping to have the first Falcon 9 at Cape Canaveral within the next few months. The first stage will be there next month and the second stage may be January.
Via Satellite: Why have you designed the Falcon 9 heavy with nine engines on the first stage?
Musk: The nine engines on the first stage offers engine out reliability, like the Saturn 5 rocket with five engines on the first stage and five on the second stage. In fact, two of the Saturn missions would have failed without engine out capability. They actually had a J2 engine fail on two missions. In fact, on one mission they had two J2 engines fail and they were still able to salvage the mission. It’s the same logic the commercial airliners use. How many people would be willing to fly on a jet with one engine? If your flying on a night flight over the Pacific Ocean with one engine, you will be using that life raft.
Via Satellite: Have you collaborated with NASA on developing the Falcon 9 for the COTS program?
Musk: NASA has very strict requirements. If we’re launching for them, they will be looking at everything, and they are not going to accept anything substandard. They go over the top on mission assurance. The U.S. Air Force is going to do the same thing.